The oldest sex manuals come from Asia. The oldest sex manual in the world is the Chinese 'Handbooks of Sex' written 5,000 years ago by Emperor Huang-Ti (2697-2598 B.C.) It is also believed that the 'Tao of Love Coupling' originated from Huang-ti. A book entitled Su-Nui Ching, became the sexual bible and medical guidebook for many generations.
In the Graeco-Roman area, a sex manual was written by Philaenis of Samos, possibly a courtesan (hetaira) of the Hellenistic period (3rd - 1st century BC). Preserved by a series of fragmentary papyruses which attest its popularity, it served as a source of inspiration for Ovid's Ars Amatoria, written around 3 BC, which is partially a sex manual, and partially a burlesque on the art of love.
Other ancient sex manuals include the lost works of Elephantis; Ananga Ranga, a 12th century collection of Hindu erotic works; and The Perfumed Garden for the Soul's Recreation, a 16th century Arabic work by Sheikh Nefzaoui.
Despite the existence of ancient sex manuals in other cultures, sex manuals were banned in Western culture for many years. What sexual information was available was generally only available in the form of illicit pornography or medical books, which generally discussed either sexual physiology or sexual disorders. The authors of medical works went so far as to write the most sexually explicit parts of their texts in Latin, so as to make them inaccessible to the general public. (See Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis as an example).
A few translations of the ancient works were circulated privately, such as Sir Richard Burton's translations of the Ananga Ranga and The Perfumed Garden.
In the late 19th Century, Ida Craddock wrote many serious instructional tracts on human sexuality and appropriate, respectful sexual relations between married couples. Among her works were The Wedding Night and Right Marital Living. In 1918 Marie Stopes published Married Love, considered groundbreaking despite its limitations in details used to discuss sex acts.
Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde's book Het volkomen huwelijk (The Perfect Marriage), published in 1926 was well-known in Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Estonia. In Germany Die vollkommene Ehe reached its 42nd printing in 1932 despite its being placed on the list of forbidden books, Index Librorum Prohibitorum by the Roman Catholic Church. In Sweden, Det fulländade äktenskapet was widely known although regarded as pornographic and unsuitable for young readers long into the 1960s. In English, Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique has 42 printings inits original 1930 edition, and was republished in new editions in 1965 and 2000.
David Reuben, M. D.'s book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), published in 1969 was one of the first sex manuals that entered mainstream culture in the 1960s. Although it did not feature explicit images of sex acts, its descriptions of sex acts were unprecedentedly detailed.
The Joy of Sex by Dr. Alex Comfort was the first sexually explicit sex manual to be widely published. Its publication in the 1970s opened the way to the widespread publication of sex manuals in the West. As a result, hundreds of sex manuals are now available in print.
One of the currently most well-known in America is The Guide to Getting it On by Paul Joannides. The Guide to Getting it On, now in its fifth edition, has won several prestigious awards and has been translated into 12 foreign languages since it first appeared in 1996.
Other reputable guides include: